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Celebrating my 7th Christmas in Beijing

Editor: Qian Ding 丨CCTV.com

12-22-2016 16:25 BJT

By Tom McGregor, CNTV Panview commentator and editor

Interesting how time flies when you’re an American expat living in Beijing. I arrived in China on Oct. 21, 2010 with just a few bucks and without any friends here. I came with hope and hardly anything else.

It was not a smooth transition, but with persistence, toughness and hard work mentality, you can grow accustomed to working and living in the country.

Another key factor to acclimate oneself is to arrive with an open-mind, high tolerance for challenges and don’t make assumptions on Western stereotypes of China.

The constant refrain goes, according to Western media, the Chinese government is cracking down on Christmas, because it originated from the West and not an authentic Chinese holiday.

Meanwhile, many expats, who are Catholics such as myself, can attend Christmas Mass in one of four cathedrals in Beijing.

Christmas not Chinese, but so what?

For those living in the West, sometimes you hear stories the Chinese hate Christmas, because it’s not China’s history.

But that’s not the case. Every Christmas Season, you can see shops and offices filled with ‘Happy Holidays’ decorations with the face of Santa Claus plastered on numerous windows.

Well, they don’t go really wild with Santa Claus decorations, such as what you would see in Western countries, but Christmas ornaments are prevalent here.


Most Chinese are unfamiliar with the origins of Christmas and they are more happy to celebrate the Spring Festival season, which covers the Chinese Lunar New Year, but they remain tolerant of those who love Christmas.

The Western-inspired holiday season is a time for people of all walks of life, no matter where they come from or what they believe in, to reunite with families to share gifts and blessings.

Not yet national holiday

The Chinese government has posted a schedule of national holidays, and Christmas is not listed. For some expats in China that may come as a shock. But, if you are from the West and wish to take a day off on that day, you are permitted to do so.

Sometimes it may seem surreal for Westerners to live in China during Christmas-time. Yes, you see holiday decorations, but not many Chinese engage in obsessive talking about what gifts they will buy for family members.

Christmas is just a regular day for them. Yet, so is American Independence Day, July 4 for the Chinese. On days when US citizens celebrate their special holidays, people in China are working in their jobs.

Well in the USA, few Americans hold family gatherings for the Chinese New Years and only comprehend that many Chinese love it, but they don’t know why.

A weekend for Christmas

This will be my first Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that land on a weekend. That’s meaningful, so I can celebrate with my wife - Zhou Yawei and 2-year-old son Peter, who enjoyed his birthday a week earlier.

Christmas is a moment to feel grateful over how much expats have accomplished here and how further we can go if we pursue the Chinese Dream.

For many decades, the USA was known as the land of opportunity, where immigrants sought to move there to achieve success for themselves and their families.

Now, the aspirations of ambitious people have shifted to the Asia-Pacific, particularly China.

Christmas in China demonstrates how the country is moving ahead towards a more globalized marketplace that welcomes people from all over the world.

But will there be a White Christmas in Beijing? That’s unlikely to occur, but maybe next year.

Keeping holiday spirit alive

It’s true that not all Chinese celebrate Christmas, even in Metropolitan cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, but more of them are beginning to participate in related festivities. Some Chinese companies host Christmas parties, while holiday shopping has gotten popular. 

In the years ahead, as China gets more open to the outside world, and on the other hand, attracts more foreigners to seek their “Chinese dream”, allured by the robust economy potential, Christmas will play an even larger role in the lives of the Chinese and that’s great for the world.

 Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!




( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )


Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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